#TBT If You See Something, Say Something

Small Black SuitcaseIt is 1999. I am in Sydney, Australia, teaching. Our classroom is in a cylindrical building that stands out on the Sydney skyline. You know this building if you’ve seen ‘The Matrix’. It’s across the street from the ledge Mr. Anderson uses trying to escape.

The Olympics are being held here in less than a year. In preparation, they are stepping up security everywhere. After we return from lunch, an announcement is made on the public address system:

Attention Floor Wardens: Today’s drill is scheduled to begin at 14:00 hours. Proceed to the staging area with your helmets and vests.

In my class: two systems guys from the Royal Australian Air Force. We make jokes, then begin the afternoon session and work for a couple of hours. Then, another announcement: “All floor wardens please report to the staging area.”

We make jokes about security in general, and for the Olympics specifically. This is pre – 9/11. My RAAF students have VERY strong opinions about security. It is their favorite part of my curriculum.

After the afternoon break I resume my lecture. We are in a darkened conference room, lit only by my projected course materials. Suddenly the door opens about ten inches. I can’t see who is outside. A black metal suitcase slides through the narrow opening and the door is pulled shut. I look up at my class and laugh.

“Great. On the day they’re doing the drill.”

We all laugh. I resume my lecture.

The boys from the RAAF aren’t having it. They actually stop the class and tell me we don’t proceed until we find out what’s up with the black metal suitcase. They aren’t kidding.

I open the door and ask the receptionist about it. She has no idea. I go out to the cubicles and ask if anyone knows about the black metal suitcase that was just inserted into the training room.

“That’d be an overhead projector,” says one of the sales guys. “I just got back from a sales call – didn’t want to disturb your class.”

Best of intentions.

If you see something, say something.

#TBT Serious Night at the Comedy Store

George LopezIt is 1978.

There’s a young woman in my Badminton class that I want to impress. Yes, Badminton. I also took Aerobics. I’m taking Karate next semester, so laugh it up.

I’m on the college paper. We receive an invitation to The Comedy Store in Hollywood. We get stuff like this all the time – Passes to screenings. Records.

Robin agrees to go. I arrive my standard 15 minutes early and spend it punching the buttons on my car stereo – KMET, KLOS, KNAC, KWST, KROQ.

I meet the mom – I’m good with moms. They tend to like me. And then we’re off.

The Comedy Store was originally the world famous Ciro’s restaurant. It was turned into a comedy club in 1972. Alumni of The Comedy Store include Steve Martin, John Belushi, Andy Kaufman, and Richard Pryor.

We check in at the door. The bouncer says we can’t come in because Robin isn’t 21. Neither am I but he didn’t ask to see MY ID.

So much for my plans to impress my date. I point out I was INVITED. I point out there was no mention of 21 and over. I make a GOOD CASE.

The manager admits us and immediately directs us up a narrow staircase at the top of which is an apartment with a kitchenette, small living room, and a bathroom. There’s a balcony that looks out over the stage. This is one of the coolest apartments I’ve ever been in.

There’s another couple on the sofa – an older guy with a long, graying pony tail and his date, also not 21. We introduce ourselves and discover we are both journalists. And, it being Hollywood in the late ‘70s, let’s just say that not being able to drink wasn’t really a problem.

“I write for our college paper. What do you do?”

“Los Angeles Free Press. I was the only reporter that Charles Manson would talk to.”

Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Sam Kinison could have performed and we wouldn’t have known it. Okay, maybe not Kinison.

Robin, it turns out, is fascinated by the Tate-LaBianca murders. She spends the evening interviewing HIM.

So I get a second date with the woman obsessed with Charles Manson…

Tune in Tomorrow: How Authors of the Classics Built Platform Through Serialization

Vintage Magazine Cover

The Century Magazine published Jack London’s ‘The Sea Wolf’ in installments.

When we think of the literary works by the great authors of Western civilization, we usually think of them as novels born complete from the writer’s mind and pen, and then typeset into print as volumes adorning the shelves of bookstores. The fact is quite different. While some writers did publish their work as complete volumes (Often paying printing costs themselves), many of the novels we think of as ‘classics’ were, in fact, originally serialized in periodicals.

This practice had already been an accepted method for getting published for a century by the time Charles Dickens ‘‘The Pickwick Papers‘ began serialization in 1836. Over the course of its publication, circulation went from 1,000 to 40,000.

In 1851, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was serialized in an abolitionist magazine, ‘The National Era. Herman Melville‘s publishers refused his novel ‘Israel Potter’. It was serialized in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine in 1853. Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ appeared in installments in La Revue de Paris in 1856.
Alexandre Dumas ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov’ were also each serialized.

By 1878, publishing a novel in serialized form was not just the last resort of authors wishing to get their work before the public. According to an article in Scribner’s Monthly, “Now it is the second or third rate novelist who cannot get publication in a magazine, and is obliged to publish in a volume, and it is in the magazine that the best novelist always appears first.”

It is well known that the stories of Sherlock Holmes appeared in The Strand magazine. His first novel featuring the great detective, ‘A Study in Scarlet’, was published en toto in ‘Beeton’s Christmas Annual’ and met with a lackluster response. The follow-up novel, ‘The Sign of Four’, was also published complete in an installment of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine and did considerably better. Following the publication of many of the Holmes short stories, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ was serialized in ‘The Strand’ beginning in 1901. The first Holmes story to be published following the character’s death was so well-received that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to bring him back by publishing stories that had ostensibly taken place prior to Holmes’ demise at Reichenbach Falls.

Several notable 20th and 21st Century authors saw their work appear in magazines. Dashiell Hammett’s first novel, ‘Red Harvest’, was serialized beginning in 1927 in the pulp magazine ‘Black Mask’. After a long career as a journalist and author of non-fiction books like ‘The Electric Koolaid Acid Test’, Tom Wolfe’s first novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, ran in 27 parts in ‘Rolling Stone’ beginning in 1984. Michael Chabon had already published several novels (Including ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburg’ and ‘Wonder Boys’) when he serialized Gentlemen of the Road in The New York Times Magazine in 2007.

Novels already have full stops to the narrative and so naturally lend themselves to serialization. The return to the practice of serializing novels makes sense in a world of sound byte mentality, where we rely on infographics and factoids to give us information packaged for bite-sized consumption. It would provide print magazines with content that could potentially increase sales.

But beyond physical (And electronic) distribution of serialized novels in magazines, the web has a voracious appetite for content. A web site is a kind of ‘magazine’, if you will. The site Mousehold Words provides Dickens and others in serialized form. Amazon has a Kindle Serial program stocking a variety of titles. DailyLit e-mails installments of books on a daily or weekly schedule. They were bought in 2013 by the serialized-fiction outlet Plympton.

#TBT When He Smiles He Looks Just Like Richard Branson

SmileIt is 1990. I am in London, having just arrived from Paris at Victoria Station. I am tired and carry a pack full of dirty clothes.

Across the street is a laundrette. I make my way there and throw a load or two in the machines. Two women enter with their laundry.

Their reaction when I greet them is an obvious glance at each other and supressed smiles – no – grins. I’m wearing my hair long, have a Van Dyke beard and moustache, and a gold hoop in my left earlobe. I don’t know what they’re going on about.

We chat a bit, then I get my wash and fold it. I can hear them whispering, and can see them glancing up at me. As I get ready to leave, they spill it.

“Has anyone told you that you look just like Richard Branson?”

I have no idea who Richard Branson is.

“He’s the president of Virgin – everything!”

They tell me he’s a millionaire. They tell me I should walk onto a Virgin flight and pretend to be him, since he’s known to drop in on flights like that.

I arrive in Cornwall that evening and after a restful night, join the other guests of my B&B. I chat with the British couple at the next table and tell them about my encounter in the laundrette. When I say the women told me I looked like Richard Branson, the woman at the other table minces no words.

“You look NOTHING like Richard Branson.”

So forceful is her statement that I am taken aback. She is offended at the thought.

“Those women were having you on.”

I take a deep breath. I’m finished anyway, so I get up and say goodbye. As I reach the door I turn and smile.

“I hope you have a wonderful day.”

The woman looks stunned. “I see it now. They were right.”

I look at her, puzzled.

“When you smile, you look just like Richard Branson.”

#TBT The AV Geek and the Dancer

DancersIt is 1972.

Our family is visiting my mother’s cousins in Los Angeles. The two women are in their sixties, dressed for the occasion. One of them is the President of the Griffith Park Hills Republican Assembly. Her husband, who I think resembles a mortician in his dark suit and stone-faced demeanor, is a former L.A. County Supervisor. I don’t understand what either of those things mean.
The other cousin, I have been informed, worked in the entertainment industry and appeared in the film ‘My Fair Lady’ directed by George Cukor. I am a film geek in middle school. I am not just a member of the AV Club, I am the founder. I have a Super-8 camera and cassette recorder with me. I am interviewing her.
She describes the experience of working on the film in the Covenant Garden dance number. She has scrap books with stills showing her in her role as a charwoman. She describes the costuming and make-up process. The make-up consisted of many layers of brown and black smudges to simulate dirt and soot.
I am thrilled. This is the first person in our family that has been in a movie. We have the soundtrack album and it is in frequent rotation at our house.
“How did they cast you in the film?”
She smiles. “Well, they were looking for older women who could dance. I’ve been a professional dancer all my life. Would you like to see my publicity pictures?”
She pulls another album from a bookcase next to the sofa and opens it in her lap. Looking up at me is a beautiful woman in her early twenties in a black-and-white 8 x 10 studio portrait that must have been taken in the thirties or forties. She smiles demurely at the camera, posed holding a pair of giant fans made of feathers and, apparently, nothing else.
I look at this wrinkled woman on the couch next to me as she flips through more pictures of her with fans. Then came the ones with balloons. I wonder if my mother knows about this part of her ‘entertainment’ career.
I learn a new word: chanteuse.